02/21/2013 02:02 pm ET Updated Apr 23, 2013

How to Reveal a Character Onstage

Yesterday a reader told me on watching my representation of Carmen that it didn't seem like I was acting. It inspired me to share my reply with my students.

Beautiful observation and you are right. First and foremost, if you can see an actor or singer's technique in action, they are not a masterful actor. They are still wrestling with mastering their technique. The actors who inhabit a role (like Meryl Streep, like Robert Duvall) are the ones who are able, like magicians, to be able to reveal, not impersonate a character.

The reason why you see 'no acting' in my performance is because I have the ability and the craft to be able to immerse myself completely in the character in the present moment. I was not acting, I was living a moment in the life of a character -- big difference. I became the character so completely that I also inspired my colleagues to immerse themselves in their roles; therefore the interaction between us became infinitely more real.

I also had a father who used seduction for survival. What he was afraid of, he seduced. He taught me well. Carmen also uses seduction for survival. I saw my father manipulate others with incredible ease and astounding mastery. I used those tremendous powers on stage in safety. Offstage it's extremely dangerous: you're playing with people's lives.

For every character I created, I had a very detailed back story. For me, Carmen had never known tenderness in love and Don Jose gave her that. She felt love for the first time with him. Why does she still have his ring even when they have parted? When he left his life to follow her, because of jealousy not because of choice, his passion turned to possessiveness. Her lust for freedom couldn't bear that. She was willing to die rather than be imprisoned.

As an actor, I have to find the link between the core of the character and my own core. For me, who was so controlled and oppressed as a child, the greatest motivating force in my life then -- and still is -- is freedom. For Carmen, as I interpreted her, the flame inside of her was freedom. Two animals came to mind when I thought of this fabulous gypsy. One was a huge black panther. If the panther had eaten and was content, you could pet it's head. If it got annoyed, it could devour you in an instant. The other is a Quetzal bird (the symbol of Guatemala) an incredibly gorgeous creature with a 4 foot tail. Legend has it that if this bird is imprisoned within a few hours it will die -- that was my Carmen. It wasn't sex that drove her, it was freedom.

On top of this very strong link between Carmen's essential core and my own, I am an introvert and I need time alone like I need oxygen. For the shining little being that ran to the stage for shelter, this magnificent character gave me the most beautiful façade and the most wonderful protection. I'll be writing more about that in my upcoming book Hiding in the Spotlight.